Thursday, 31 May 2012

Good things to eat [Volume 9]

It's been far too long since I've written about some of the great things I've eaten. For the most part this year, if it wasn't a restaurant, cafe or takeaway meal it hasn't had a look in. I'm going to try and redress the balance by writing more of these posts, and hopefully in the process big up some of the fantastic food producers and suppliers we have in the North.

Sheffield ice cream

Let's start off with some ice-cream. It's been very summery of late so the cold creamy stuff has been warranted. I've discovered that Sheffield is home to two very good ice cream makers, both of whom use local dairy products.

In the case of Our Cow Molly, dairy products from their own herd of cows. I'm not normally a fan of mint choc chip ice cream; - bright green, too sweet, artificial mint flavouring, cheap chocolate. Not good. Theirs was none of those things. It was mild and creamy with a delicate natural mint flavour and just a scattering of tiny dark chocolate chips. Lovely, and very refreshing.

Yee Kwan's ice creams are a little more exotic, with an emphasis on Asian flavours. The pistachio was excellent. Very smooth with an intense pistachio flavour. I could eat a lot of this stuff, and that's not the norm for me where ice cream is concerned. I'm keen to try the ginger and green tea flavours.

Uncle Riaz' corner shop samosas

I love samosas. I especially love dirt cheap home made back street Asian grocery store samosas. I'm sure there are plenty of places all over West Yorkshire where you can buy such delights, but the number one for me can be found on Brudenell Road, in the Hyde Park area of Leeds.

It's not and never was called Uncle Riaz' corner shop, it was run by a Mr Riaz but the shop appeared to be nameless. I lived about three doors down from it as a student, and Uncle Riaz was an affectionate term for the proprietor who kept us supplied with chipping potatoes, fizzy pop, budget loo roll and spicy deep-fried snacks morning, noon and night.

Nowadays it's been tarted up and goes by the name of Makkah Foods or somethingorother, but I know the same people are in charge because the samosas are still there. It's over a decade since I ate them several times a week, but if I'm in the vicinity I'll still pop in for a few.

The crust is substantial but crisp, light and yielding. I've no idea how it's made (gram flour?) but it's good. It cracks open to reveal a moderately spiced potato and pea filling. Not overly fiery with chilli, but gently warming with cumin and hints of fennel.

They cost 40p each now, or three for a pound. Outstanding value, and delicious. All those takeaways and restaurants who consider it acceptable to sell a filo pastry triangle filled with frozen mixed veg and call it a samosa should be ashamed. And should be forced to visit Uncle Riaz' and buy his samosas until they repent their sins.

Available on Brudenell Road, just by the Mosque.

Cheese - tome des bauges

It's been an age since I've talked about cheese. I had a cracking cheese board a few weeks ago (thanks Booth's). There were some fine British cheeses (Stichelton, Ticklemore, Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire) and a good Brie de Meaux, all of which I'd eaten before plus one new cheese, a rather splendid French effort by the name of tome des bauges.

It's an unpasteurised cow's cheese, and that depth of flavour you only seem to get from cheese made from unpasteurised milk is there in spades. It's rich, buttery, slightly salty with a sort of lingering vegetal taste, almost mushroomy. Lovely.

Available at:

Yorkshire curd tarts 

The pictured tart was ok, but I've had better. It was a little bit dry. This is more a plea for help than anything. I adore Yorkshire curd tarts but don't know where to find a really great one. I think it's probably quite tricky to get the balance right. The curds should remain moist with hints of cheesiness, but without transferring any sogginess to the pastry that should be short, sweet and crumbly. Suggestions please?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Bolehill Fish and Chips, Crookes, Sheffield

I've been impressed with my first forays into the Sheffield food scene, but until last week I'd failed to tackle the all important question. What about the fish and chips?

This wasn't a bad introduction, but it was a little strange. I didn't have peas, but AS did, and they appeared to be full of food colouring. They tasted fine, but were a very peculiar shade of green, dark yet lurid. Almost blue tinged. I forgot to take a photo so you'll have to take my word for it, they really did look odd.

Is this normal behaviour in the Steel city? Is the dying of peas commonplace? Whether this was an isolated incident or not, it needs to stop. Don't dye the peas. Please don't. It's unnerving and unnecessary.

As I said, I didn't even have the peas, despite this their unusual appearance is the abiding memory of the meal. I had curry sauce, which I can't remember a thing about. It wasn't luminous orange of that I'm sure.

The fish was a decent enough specimen. Fresh, chunky and not overcooked. The batter was a little stodgy in parts though with rather too much residual grease. The chips were pleasant and plentiful (too plentiful really).

Good chips, fairly good fish, average batter, avoid the peas. I'll probably try elsewhere next time. No idea how much it cost because they were fetched for me.


249 Crookes
S10 1TF

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Bagel Nash, White Rose Centre, Leeds

Until the other week I hadn't been to Bagel Nash in years. I had it in mind that it was crap. I can't recall why, but presumably I ate something rubbish from there. Either that or my confused brain mixed it up with somewhere else.

Whatever the reason for my assumptions, they were wrong. Sorry Bagel Nash, I was mistaken, you're not crap.

I had a salt beef bagel from the White Rose Centre branch and really enjoyed it. It wasn't legendary-American-diner-sandwich good, but it was certainly £2.95-in-a-shopping-centre-in-Leeds good. (For moaning about poor attempts at salt beef or pastrami sandwiches see here.)

The bagel was a pleasing combination of both light and chewy. The beef wasn't amazing, but there was plenty and it had a good beefy flavour. The mustard was hot but not overly so and there were loads of pickles. Delicious, crunchy, sour pickles.

A good lunch. I won't leave it so long before paying a return visit.


7 branches in Leeds, 2 in Manchester, 1 in Huddersfield and 1 in York.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Banana Leaf, Glasgow

Glasgow's West End is a great place to eat Indian food. There are several restaurants and cafes all within walking distance of one another (and also all owned by the same people) that have served me some really fantastic food over the last few years. This meal at the Wee Curry Shop was wonderful, and prior to starting the blog I dined well at two of the Mother India places.

Banana Leaf, a budget South Indian cafe and takeaway in the same part of town (but not under the same ownership), has had loads of great press so I was hoping it would live up to the high expectations.

First thing to note: go elsewhere if you want a nice restaurant. This is very much a caff and takeaway, and a bit on the grotty side at that. Don't let that put you off though, budget South Indian places always seem to be a bit scruffy and none of them have poisoned me yet (and they did have hygiene certificates on the wall).

The food is cheap, and the menu predictable for anyone familiar with cheap and cheerful South Indian food. There are dosai, vadai, idly's, sambar, loads of curries and dry-fried dishes.

Being greedy and having not had one in ages I ordered a plain dosa (£4) as well as a non-veg set meal (£7.50).

I couldn't fault the dosa, it was thin and light without being so thin it crumbled to nothing. Just the right texture for scooping up the chutney's and sambar which were all good. Fresh, bright tomato and coconut chutney's and a deeply savoury sambar tempered with loads of mustard seeds and curry leaves.

The set meal included (clockwise from top right) more sambar, raita, mixed veg curry, chicken curry, chapattis and rice. I could have eaten the chicken gravy, sambar and rice all day, lovely stuff. The chicken curry gravy matched the sambar for savoury deliciousness, having a stock base built up from bone-in chicken. The rice was fluffy loveliness.

The veg curry was a little too sweet and watery and the chapattis were rubbish (thick, doughy). Forget the breads here and stick to rice or pancakes.

I enjoyed this, the only thing missing was a bit of a chilli hit. Everything was very mild for South Indian food. I'm sure the Glaswegians can handle a bit of spice so I'm not sure why it was all so toned down. Having said that if I had somewhere like this anywhere near my house I'd be in there once a week.

Pretty good for £13 including a soft drink and tip. It's also handily positioned just round the corner for pre- or post-curry beers at Brewdog Glasgow. Worth a visit.


76 Old Dumbarton Road
G3 8RE

Banana Leaf on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 May 2012

Pork meatballs

I'm slacking at the moment. Almost a week since my last blog post. I've been gadding about all over the place, eating on the hoof, sometimes in restaurants, sometimes not. Cooking hasn't had much of a look in with one notable exception, a batch of delicious pork meatballs. They were porky and herby and cheesy and lovely, so I thought I'd write about them.

The ingredients are flexible depending on what you have to hand. The herbs in particular could be altered (rosemary might be nice) as could the cheese. Whatever you do don't miss out the bread though, as it really lightens the balls, making them a lot less dense than they would be otherwise.

They are best fried in a little olive oil until they have a lovely savoury brown crust and juicy innards. When they're done toss with pasta and a tomato based sauce. I did them two different ways using egg tagliatelle. The first was a very fresh, zesty sauce of fresh tomatoes, parsley and lemon. The second a deeper, sweeter affair made from roasted peppers and tinned tomatoes. Both were good.

What you'll need (serves around 6)

750g pork mince
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
a handful of flat parsley, chopped
about 1 dessertspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 slice or crust of old white bread, grated or blitzed in a food processor into crumbs
1 heaped tablespoon parmesan, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Pasta and a tomatoey sauce to serve

What to do

Mix all of the meatball ingredients together in a big bowl. Use your hands or a fork and a big spoon.

Season generously with salt and pepper. At this point I fry a little test patty to taste and check the seasoning. Adjust if necessary.

Roll out the mix into little balls about an inch across. You should get at least forty. Set them aside until you're ready to cook. They freeze well or will be fine in the fridge for a couple of days.

Fry your balls until they're lovely and crusty and brown on the outside and succulent within. Toss with cooked pasta and your sauce of choice, then serve immediately with extra parmesan.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Akbar's, Leeds

It's taken me a while to get round to writing this review. I was umming and ahhing about whether to bother at all. I was a little merry at the time of eating and the details are proving elusive. No matter I thought, I'll ask my dining companions what they thought, make it a bit of a combined effort. That didn't really help either, everyone was fairly up to speed on the starters but things got a little sketchy from thereon.

I'm reviewing it anyway because I like Akbar's, always have, ever since a visit to the original Leeds Road branch in Bradford around a decade ago. I've always found their meat curries reliably good, their tandoor cooked food (grilled meat and breads primarily) excellent and the service efficient. They also seem to have managed to maintain that consistency as they've expanded in recent years.

Three of us ate at the Greek Street outpost the other weekend. It's a good place for Friday night beer and curry, and by the time we arrived after nine it was heaving with well lubricated diners. The atmosphere was festive to say the least. Don't come here on a first date, really don't. Think raucous bearpit, not romantic hideaway.

Anyhow, after a bad start of three pints of completely flat lager, which instead of sending back we drank before moving onto bottles, a feast was duly ordered sticking to the Akbar's strengths. Grilled stuff, meat curries and bread.

Liver tikka was slightly overcooked, but still delicious. This is a great dish. Think rich, smooth slightly metallic liver enhanced by a tangy, hot marinade. Beautifully soft inside, charred edges with lots of little nibbly crusty bits.

The paneer tikka was also very good. Not bland or rubbery, with a mild but pronounced lactic taste. Again with the same contrast of a soft centre and crusty grilled edges.

We also had a piece of masala fish which was probably nice but who knows? It certainly looks well.

The three curries involved lamb, chicken with keema (bonus lamb!) and something else which escapes me. None of them were exceptional in any way (I'd have remembered exceptional, I hadn't had that much to drink) but they were all a pleasure to eat scooped up with the excellent naan bread.

Which brings me to the naan tree. Some people consider these to be a rather daft gimmick, but to my mind they actually serve a purpose. For me, a good naan bread is all about the texture. That winning combination of a light, fluffy interior and a gently cracking crust, browned where the dough is in contact with the clay of the tandoor whilst it cooks.

Breads served flat, often piled upon one another, keep warm longer but have a tendency to go a little soggy, losing that crucial contrast between crust and insides. Breads served on the tree cool quicker but retain that vital crispness for longer. I'd rather eat cold, crisp naan bread than warm, soggy naan bread.

Whatever your thoughts on this matter I can confirm this: we had a massive naan bread on a naan tree and it was ace. We also had a couple of tandoori rotis but these were a bit pants, being too thick and doughy. Stick to the naans.

Service, as ever, was efficient. They really do a good job here, front of house and in the kitchen. It can't be easy speedily serving a full restaurant, with a bar full of people waiting, most of whom are probably well on the way to being sozzled, but they rarely miss a beat. It's still great value as well, we paid just over £20 each for all of the food, a couple of beers each and a well earned tip.

It's a bit difficult rating this when I can barely remember what the curry tasted like, but it's not like I've got a systematic quantitative approach to ratings anyway, so who cares. I'm giving them 8 out of 10. Call it a gut feeling. I like Akbar's.


Minerva House
16 Greek Street

Akbar's the Grand on Urbanspoon

Monday, 14 May 2012

Han Sofrasi, Nottingham

I've often driven out of Nottingham on the A610, straight up Alfreton Road, and thought there'd be some likely candidates for a good lunch in the vicinity. Last week I finally got round to stopping and taking a look, and was pleased to discover my suspicions were correct.

Han Sofrasi was advertising a lunch special, £6.50 for the dish of the day with rice and bread. It was pushing 2pm so I was ravenous and the offer of double carbs appealed. Inside I was pleased to find a proper Turkish grill house, massive charcoal grill in situ.

Sadly the daily special didn't involve anything grilled, but was pretty good regardless. I forget the Turkish name, but it was assorted chargrilled vegetables (peppers and aubergines mainly) stewed in a pepper and tomato sauce with chunks of lamb and potatoes. Very simple but well made. Smooth, sweet, tangy sauce, soft char edged vegetables and tender lamb.

The rice was nicely cooked and the bread had been warmed up, giving it a crisp, slightly oily crust (a bit focaccia like) and light, airy insides. In authentic Turkish style there was also bloody loads of it.

Service was quick and friendly, I was in and out in about 15 minutes for the loss of £8.50 including a soft drink and a tip. Would I return? Well it's not worth a special trip but if I'm in Nottingham and after Turkish food then it's probably a great option. Nice tunes on the website too. Check it out.


Han Sofrasi
91 Alfreton Road

Friday, 11 May 2012

Italian Express, Walkley, Sheffield

Walkley is lucky to have that rarest of things, a genuinely good pizza takeaway. Thanks to a recommendation from Clare I found out about Italian Express, handily situated just up the hill from my girlfriend's house.

Describing the place as a pizza takeaway is probably doing it a disservice really, as there's a full restaurant style menu; - pasta, risotto, steaks, fish, the lot, all available to takeaway.

I thought I'd put them to the test by ordering the frittura mista, and having it delivered. An assortment of deep fried seafood delivered to your door from most British takeaways doesn't bear thinking about. Imagine what kind of rank, greasy filth you'd get from your average high street pizza/doner/fried chicken merchant. Uurgghh.

Fortunately the Italian Express frittura mista was anything but greasy filth. First impressions were good, I'd been wondering what the method of packaging would be. How to keep the batter crisp and fresh whilst keeping it hot? The answer, apparently, is to put it in a plastic container but cut a little hole in the corner, large enough to let out the excess steam to prevent sogginess but small enough to not let all of the heat out.

It worked, the batter was very thin, very light and very crisp. There were loads of bouncy prawns, mussels large and small, squid rings that weren't chewy, a few octopus tentacles, and something smaller and unidentifiable (cockles maybe?). Everything tasted fresh, not the very finest quality but it was a generous portion for £5.50.

A Bollente pizza (pepperoni, chilli, peppers, oregano, olive oil) had high quality toppings and a very thin, digestible crust with a good char. It was a little too thin in parts, cracking and slightly biscuity in texture rather than crisp then chewy within, but still went down a treat. The toppings were all present in just the right quantities, and the individual flavours of the cheese, pepperoni and olive oil were all discernable.

The pizza was £7.95 so the total bill came to £15.45 with the £2 delivery charge. You can get far cheaper I'm sure, but it will almost certainly be crap. On balance, this meal ought to serve two people, and under eight quid each for food better than many Italian restaurants serve is good value in my book. Recommended.


391 South Road
S6 3TD

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Bacon Sandwich Quest: April

Bet you thought I'd forgotten about Bacon Sandwich Quest. Sadly I haven't, the April round up is just running a little late. Things perked up a bit in April, there was an unusual coffee shop offering, a standard greasy spoon effort and of course I threw my own sarnie of champions into the mix.

The coffee shop curveball for starters, from Grind Coffee Lounge in Wakefield. A bacon sandwich toasted on a griddle, eaten in an independent coffee shop, reminiscent of those you get in the chain coffee shops. It was sort of good, flavour packed smokey bacon, but sort of wrong, as the bread was overtoasted making the whole thing rather crunchy. Bacon butties shouldn't be crunchy. Hmm.

Let's face it, if you want a job doing properly you're best off doing it yourself. It seems a little unfair to rate my own bacon sandwich, but given the generally lacklustre standard so far people obviously need some guidance. I don't mean to sound boastful but this is how it should be done. Anyhow I think I've been objective, docking myself a point for service on account of getting cold feet from the kitchen tiles whilst making it.

And finally, Pat's Cafe, Knowsley Industrial Estate's finest. Solid, reliable, unspectacular. No photo, but it looked like any other bacon roll (or barm as those crazy cats like to call it).This isn't the first one of these I've eaten, and it certainly won't be the last. Currently residing in the final podium place, but can it stay the distance?

Here's the leaderboard, formatted horribly but Blogger is driving me up the wall. Sorry. Here's to May.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Three easy teas

I haven't written about any of my home cooking in ages, it's either down to a lack of time or a lack of inspiration in the kitchen. Probably a little bit of both. I have eaten a few meals that I've really enjoyed over the last week or so though, so thought I'd share.

Chick pea and mushroom curry 

A very quick and easy curry this, done and dusted in half an hour. Perfect for after work cooking, and it tastes pretty good too.

What you'll need (for two people):

1 tin chick peas
3 cloves garlic
1 large red chilli
1 onion
1 tsp mustard seeds
a handful of fresh coriander (stems and leaves)
1 heaped dessertspoon hot curry powder
ginger (stem in syrup!)
1 tomato
1 bay leaf
handful mushrooms
water to cover
1 tsp garam masala

What to do:

Heat up a little oil over a medium heat in a heavy bottomed pan. Chop the onion and throw it in the pan.

While the onion is sweating chop up the garlic, the chilli, coriander stems and the ginger then bash them to a rough paste in a pestle and mortar with a little oil, salt and pepper. I'd normally use a lump of fresh ginger, but had none in the house so wondered if a chunk of stem ginger from a jar would do (it did, adding a bit of gingery warmth and also a little sweetness).

Put the mustard seeds in the pan with the onion and stir until they start to sizzle and pop, then throw in the curry powder and bay leaf. Stir and keep frying for a minute or two. Add a little water if it starts to stick.

Throw in the garlic/chilli/coriander/ginger mush and fry for another minute or two. Chop the tomato and add that to the pan.

Chop the mushrooms and add them to the pan. Open the chick peas, drain them and add them to the pan. Add enough water so that the chick peas and mushrooms are just barely covered. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced.

Throw in the garam masala and cook for one more minute. Garnish with the coriander leaf.

Eat. Best with some sort of Indian flatbread.

Lancashire cheese, apple, fennel and watercress salad

A great little salad of contrasting tastes and textures. Crisp and sweet, crumbly and creamy. The sharper acidity of the apples works really well with the more mellow tang of the cheese.

What you'll need (per person):

a large-ish hunk (maybe about 50g) of good quality Lancashire cheese (I used Mrs Kirkham's)
a sharp, crisp English apple
half a small bulb of fennel
a big handful of watercress
lemon juice
olive oil
black pepper

What to do:

Finely chop the fennel and apple into thin slivers. Cut the cheese into little chunks.

Toss the fennel, apple, cheese and watercress together. Squeeze over some lemon juice and add a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Grind over some black pepper.

Eat. Best with some crusty bread (granary works well with this).

A Polish plate

Polish might be pushing it here, but it's closer to Polish than any other specific nation. I think. Anyhow this isn't a recipe, more an assemblage of nice things, most of which I bought from an Eastern European supermarket in Wakefield.

My recent trip to the Czech Republic has piqued my interested in Eastern European food. It's much maligned, in rather the same way as British food has been over the years (tasteless, overcooked stodge with extra stodge), but as with British food there's a lot more to it than that.

Given the large Eastern European population in the UK these days I thought it was high time I investigated one of their supermarkets. It was pretty good. Loads of interesting looking sausages and cured meats, a multitude of peculiar dairy products (at least 73 flavours of cottage cheese as far as I could tell) and lots and lots of jarred pickles of every possible persuasion. I put together this lovely little meal with my purchases.

What you'll need:

a good Polish (or generally Eastern European) supermarket
Kabanos (cured smoked sausage, think nicer peparami)
cottage cheese
dark rye bread with sunflower seeds
pickled peppers (these are Turkish which is stretching the theme but what the hell)
Sliced tomato

What to do:

Arrange everything on the plate then eat it. Be pleasantly surprised at how nice it all is, and how enough of it to serve four or five people cost you six quid.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Pho 68, Sheffield

Mission 'find pho in Yorkshire' arrived in Sheffield last Friday. Surely Pho 68 would come up trumps. The clue is in the name.

Pho 68 is a Vietnamese Cafe serving 'Traditional Vietnamese and select Pacific rim cuisine'. Their words not mine. I'm not really sure what they're on about with the Pacific rim bit, in practice the lengthy menu comprises a fairly short list of Vietnamese classics (noodle soups, summer rolls, clay pot dishes, grilled meat and rice/noodle plates) and a far longer one of Anglo-Chinese dishes.

We mixed and matched, left to my own devices I'd have stuck to the Vietnamese stuff but AS had a craving for crispy duck. A quarter duck and a Vietnamese pancake was clearly far too much food for a starter as both were enormous, a theme that would continue with the mains. Be warned.

The pancake was stuffed to bursting with beansprouts, other veggies and chicken, and wasn't overly greasy like some of these I've eaten in the past. I was rather pleased we'd chosen the duck once it had arrived, as it was fragrant with lovely crisp skin and still moist flesh. The hoi sin sauce doesn't really do it for me though, it's far too sweet. Give me some chilli bean sauce and I'm happy.

Here it is. The real purpose of the visit to Pho 68. Pho with rare beef and braised beef. It looked the part, and tasted it too. They've got the makings of a really good pho here. The stock was excellent. Deep, aromatic and intensely savoury. Wafer thin slices of beef were rare on arrival but cooked through as time progressed, the gentle poaching keeping them tender. The braised beef (brisket I think) was also sliced thin, but had a stronger, minerally flavour. The tendon running through it was soft and gelatinous speaking of long, slow cooking. The noodles, save for a little gluey clump at the top, were cooked just right.

So all was well with everything that arrived in the bowl, it was the plate of accompaniments that rather let the side down. For me, the thing that can really lift a bowl of pho from the good to the sublime is the plate of things to add. The contrast between the earthy depths of the nourishing broth and the freshness and zip of herbs and citrus can be just the best thing ever (especially when hungover).

You'd expect to get beansprouts, a wedge of lime, some chopped chilli, and as a minimum, a good handful of coriander and mint. There are several other herby possibilities (sawtooth herb is my favourite), but I've never seen anything other than mint and coriander offered outside London. Pho 68 offered up one measly sprig of coriander. To be fair, I didn't ask for extra, maybe the good folk of Sheffield don't want their tea tainting with unnecessary greenery so they don't bother. Next time I'll ask, but more herbs really should be the norm.

Our other main was a Vietnamese chicken stir-fry which was pleasant enough, if a little boring. A more generous hand with the lemongrass and chilli would have perked things up a bit.

It's a casual sort of place but they are licensed so we had a couple of beers each. Including those the bill came to around £34 before tip. Service was efficient but also very friendly. It's a bit of a tricky one to rate this, as some things were excellent (the pho broth, the duck) but others disappointing (the stir-fry, the lack of herbs).

I'll definitely return though, sort the herb issue out and this is best pho I've eaten in the North by a clear distance (ahead of Vnam in Manchester and Viet-Thai in Leeds).


175 London Road
S2 4LH

Pho 68 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A Tyneside Special

Hidden away in the depths of Tyneside, an anonymous row of shops on an anonymous street harbours a secret. The local residents are in on it, but I doubt the news has spread much further than Wallsend. It's not a touristy part of town, Howdon. The secret is this: here be a GREGGS BAKERY OUTLET.

I thought such a thing only existed in my teenage dreams. I was a bit partial to Greggs in my youth, you see. Or rather to Thurston's as it was called in West Yorkshire back in the day. My standard order was a jumbo sausage roll with a side order of cheese and onion pasty, and if I was in the mood for dessert a jam doughnut or devon iced split for afters. Yum.

The idea of a discount pasty emporium would have been music to my ears, or at least a surfeit of fat, salt and sugar to my lips. I really would have been in dreamland. My Greggs addiction has faded over the years, I pay them a visit perhaps once every couple of months, usually when hungover, when only the salty pink-ish filth of a Greggs sausage roll will do the job. In spite of this I couldn't help but get a little twinge of excitement when I spotted the Greggs bakery outlet.

I imagined a regular Greggs, but with everything misshapen in some way or other. Colossal mutant pasties with pastry protruding at odd angles, or maybe double jammed doughnuts that would delight like a double yolked egg.

The reality wasn't quite so much fun. Lots of cold pre-packaged stuff, presumably manufacturing seconds, but indistinguishable from the usual product. Not much in the way of choice either, most of the stock seemingly comprising stottie cakes, chicken bakes and battered millionaire's shortbread offcuts.

My heart was set on a pasty, so it had to be the chicken bake (2 for £1). If only this was 1994 the excitement would have sustained, but in the cold, harsh reality of 2012 it was all a bit rubbish. Slightly limp pastry, wobbly sauce-based filling holding the odd chunk of protein, presumably chicken. An overriding taste of salt and disappointment. Not sure why it was an outlet offering, it was just the same as the full price quality controlled version as far as I could tell. Ho hum.

Further along the same row of shops you'll find the Chapel Bakery, purveyor of a true North-eastern classic, the ham and pease pudding stottie.

For those not in the know, pease pudding is made from boiling the crap out of yellow split peas forever (ideally with some ham stock or a ham bone), or at least until they form a uniform mush, which is then seasoned with salt and white pepper. Think of it as Geordie hummus.

This is then stuffed in a stottie, a large soft breadcake, like a huge oven bottom muffin, with slices of ham. In theory it's a splendid idea for a sandwich, but in practice this one was a bit overbearing. As with the pasty it was the salt that did for me. The ham was good quality but very salty, the pease pudding was whacked on in big chunks and was also very salty, and the bread was perfect for the task but I doubt it was lacking in the salt stakes either. I couldn't eat more than half of it before I was spitting feathers, and sadly the rest went in the bin.

There's loads of good food to be had in the North-east, but probably not so much of it in Howdon. Or in Greggs.

Greggs Bakery Outlet
Tynemouth Road

Chapel Bakery
Tynemouth Road

1) Greggs is Greggs as opposed to Gregg's because that's how Greggs themselves write it. Blame them not me.
2) I have just discovered a new Greggs product: the chip shop chicken curry bake. My faith is restored.
3) Bring back Thurston's!
4) They should also bring back the 'got to get to Greggs' marketing campaign with the stoned chap on the posters. I liked that.
5) For more informative Greggs reviews, check out the (now sadly defunct by the look of it) Greggs Adventure:

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